‘I see a lot of love’: Stand Down returns as full weekend event for homeless veterans
The San Diego Union-Tribune July 30, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — Charles Nesbitt said he is tired of sleeping on the street.
“I came here motivated to change,” the Navy veteran said Friday morning.
Nesbitt, 55, was one of about 150 people who showed up for the first day of Stand Down, a three-day event being held at Roosevelt Middle School in San Diego to help homeless veterans.
Veterans Village of San Diego created the event 35 years ago to connect homeless veterans with services that could help them overcome addictions, find housing and employment as well as providing a sense of community.
By the time the event winds down Sunday, about 500 veterans are expected to have participated, with many staying in tents that could accommodate about 300 people.
“It’s all about connections and community,” said VVSD President and CEO Akilah Templeton.
Attendance was expected to be down this year from the last three-day event held in 2019, which attracted about 700 people.
Templeton said the decline can be seen as an encouraging sign, with fewer veterans locally and nationwide experiencing homelessness. This year’s count of homeless people in San Diego County found 378 veterans living without shelter and 308 in shelters.
In 2020, the annual count found 623 veterans in shelters and 317 living without shelter, and the 2019 count found 644 veterans in shelters and 424 without shelter.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has reported homelessness among veterans has dropped by about 50 percent over the past decade nationally, with about 37,100 reported in 2019.
Veterans are over-represented in the nationwide homeless population, with post traumatic stress and addiction often attributed as contributing factors. Nesbitt, homeless since 2020, said he talked to someone at the VVSD table Friday morning and was accepted into the nonprofit’s residential rehabilitation program, which he will move into Sunday.
About 50 organizations participated in this year’s event, including Family Health Centers of San Diego, the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Humanity Showers, the Veterans Administration and the Red Cross. On the middle school’s tennis court, booths included Interfaith Community Services, People Assisting the Homeless, Father Joe’s Villages and Bayview Behavioral Health Center.
Participants also could get haircuts, pick out clothing from a dozen racks and tables, and get lunch and dinner from the Gary Sinise Foundation, a first-time sponsor.
Inside the school library, representatives from the DMV and the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices worked to help veterans clear their records and set up court dates as part of Homeless Court.
Clearing records of small violations can clear the way for homeless people to have their licenses reinstated or enroll in programs that could lead to housing and employment.
Doreen Garry, 64, said the court helped her clear her DMV record, and she was relieved to learn that she didn’t have a warrant out for arrest because of outstanding fines, which she couldn’t afford to pay.
“I thought if I’d get pulled over, I was going to jail,” she said, adding that the fear sometimes kept her from driving.
Garry has been homeless since her husband, Thomas, died two years ago. He had been a volunteer at Stand Down for 14 years, and she said he would appreciate how the event is now helping her.
“Tom would be happy,” she said. “He’d hate to see me struggling.”
Army veteran Dan Kelley, 64, said he has been homeless on and off 20 years and has been to Stand Down a few times in the past.
“I’m a struggling student trying to do the right thing,” said Kelley, who is enrolled in a community college with hopes of becoming a dental hygienist. “Stand Down has always been helpful. They get you on the right track and thinking the right thoughts. Once you start coming here, you start thinking about improving your life. You get a moment of clarity away from the B.S., you know what I mean?”
Patricia Smith, a friend of Kelley’s for 30 years, also is homeless and said her father was a Navy veteran.
“I see a lot of love,” she said about Stand Down. “I see people get their lives together and building on it.”
Arthur Lute, 60, served in the Marines, Navy and Army Reserve and was attending Stand Down for the 11th time.
Lute had been homeless for about eight years and lived in his car while traveling state to state looking for work. He said he was denied benefits for years because a clerical error by Veterans Affairs in Arizona classified him as a non-veteran, a situation that wasn’t resolved until he moved to San Diego.
At his first visit to Stand Down, Lute said he turned down an offer for help from the VA because of his past experience. “The next year, the same lady who knew me said, ‘Come here, I’m not letting you go this time,’” he recalled about being talked into a sit-down with someone from the V.A.
“I listened to him, and three months later I got a housing voucher and have been off the streets ever since,” he said.
No longer homeless, Lute said he was attending Stand Down over the weekend because his sons, 8 and 10, enjoy it.
Stand Down returned this weekend as a three-day event after being held for just one day because of the pandemic during the past two years. It had been held at San Diego High School for many years, but was moved this year to Roosevelt Middle School because of construction at the high school.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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